“If there’s a more pointless annual story than the sunshine list, I can’t think of it.” – Tweet today from Adam Radwanski, Globe and Mail columnist.
Radwanski didn’t always think this way. In 2010 he argued salary disclosure had the effect of pushing salaries upwards as senior staff could compare their compensation to others. It also meant that front line staff could see the widening gap between senior managers and their own salaries.
Let’s face it – we all want to look. Our sunshine list stories on this blog are always popular. Feel free to click here if you want to see this year’s report.
But why stop there? As much as the right-wing media like to rush to judgement, nobody asks how these salaries even compare to the private sector? Without context, much of this list is, as Radwanski states, pointless.
Nor does the list actually tell you anything about how it was earned. Is it the result of a lot of overtime? Is severance included? Is it smaller than it should be because the executive began the job mid-year? What about non-taxable benefits?
In a year where a lot of public sector workers are losing their jobs, it could have the perverse effect of pushing more people onto the list with severance payouts.
While there is a certain voyeurism in looking at your neighbour’s salary, public sector workers should be willing to stand up and say, hey, if I show you mine, you should show me yours.
That’s exactly what happened in Norway, where everybody’s tax returns are online. In Sweden they limit it to middle and high income earners in both the private and public sectors.
Italy also had a brief moment when everyone could sneak a peek at their neighbour’s earnings. According to the Gallup Business Journal, in 2005 departing Prime Minister Romano Prodi made everyone’s tax returns public. According to the Journal, “Italians reacted with a combination of horror that their own data were revealed and eagerness to know what the rich, the famous, and the neighbors were earning — or at least saying they were earning in a system known for rampant tax evasion.” Gallup reports the website was jammed by the curious before public outrage shut it down.
Here in our world union employee salaries will soon be public thanks to Federal legislation around disclosure. This is even though unions are part of the private sector. Your taxes do not pay union salaries – funding comes from member dues (and before somebody insists that public sector workers are paid from taxes, what public sector workers spend on cars, houses, and groceries wouldn’t be considered taxpayer- funded either).
In Ontario for-profit companies that do significant amounts of public sector work are exempt from reporting on the sunshine list. So are not-for-profit executives of home care agencies such as St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Victorian Order of Nurses.
We have to show you ours. What about you?